The Date Once Called Sacred is Postponed at the 11th Hour

The date once called sacred was postponed Sunday, after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat were unable to conclude negotiations in time to meet the deadline to begin implementing the Israel-PLO autonomy accord.

The two leaders announced their failure to reach agreement on several key details of the accord, whose implementation was scheduled to begin the following day with the beginning of a pullback of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Rabin and Arafat agreed only to meet again in the Egyptian capital in 10 days.

And Rabin gave no indication if Israel would make any symbolic gestures to the Palestinians by Monday’s deadline, despite predictions.

The ambience in Cairo was considerably cooler than the one at the Sept. 13 signing in Washington of the Israel-PLO accord. And this time there was no public handshake.

Prompted by reporters to clasp Arafat’s hand for the cameras, Rabin declined, saying only, “Later, later.”

Rabin told a news conference after conferring with Arafat that a follow-up meeting had been decided upon in order “to give ourselves a certain amount of time to rethink” their positions.

At a separate news conference, Arafat said the two sides were still committed to implementing the accord, signed in Washington in September.

“We agreed that all of us are committed to the declaration of principles (which form the basis of the self-rule accord), but we have some differences over some points and we agreed to have another meeting,” he said.

Arafat, who had previously warned of the dangers of not meeting the Dec. 13 deadline, told reporters that 10 days were “not a long time.”

Rabin also downplayed the significance of the delay.

AFTER 100 YEARS. 10 DAYS IS NOT TOO LONG

“We need a little bit more time,” he said. “Ten days — bearing in mind over 100 years of Palestinian-Jewish conflict — is not too long.”

Rabin and Arafat also met for 30 minutes with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The three leaders appeared relaxed as they posed for the cameras before their meeting. Rabin and Mubarak wore suits; Arafat was dressed in his trademark olive-drab fatigues.

They said the committee for establishing a Palestinian civil authority in the territories would return to the negotiating table in the Egyptian seaside town of el-Arish on Monday. The second committee, which will continue to discuss matters of economic cooperation, will resume its meetings in Paris the same day.

In a related development, on the same day as Rabin and Arafat were meeting in Cairo, Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi announced she was leaving the PLO to set up an independent human rights group.

The new group would monitor the performance of the new Palestinian government after it assumes authority in the territories.

Ashrawi, who has for years been a high-profile Palestinian spokesperson with ties to the PLO, is reportedly displeased with what she views as Arafat’s dictatorial style of running the organization.

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